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Confident Carlsen Equalizes Easily In FIDE World Chess Championship Game 7
Carlsen achieved an easy draw after unambitious play from Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Confident Carlsen Equalizes Easily In FIDE World Chess Championship Game 7

PeterDoggers
| 116 | Chess.com News

Lasting just two and a half hours, game seven of the 2021 FIDE World Chess Championship was the fastest draw in the match so far. GM Magnus Carlsen repeated his 8...Rb8 line against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi's 8.a4 Anti-Marshall and quickly equalized after what the experts saw as unambitious play from his opponent. Game eight is scheduled for Sunday at 16:30 Dubai time (13:30 CET, 4:30 a.m. Pacific).

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It was not a great surprise to see the shortest game of the match thus far—after the longest game in world championship history. Game six was a tiring affair, and the players didn't get as much sleep as they are used to, so a "semi-rest day" was fine for them (and perhaps for the reporters as well).

Nepo-Carlsen game 7 Dubai 2021
The handshake for game seven. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In fact, at the press conference, Nepomniachtchi made a point of the fact that they had been playing beyond midnight the other day, saying: "It was quite a new experience to play two games on the same day. Somehow I thought that at the world championship match level it should be a little bit different than in some open tournaments, but once we start that late, it suddenly backfires and ends after dark."

When a Norwegian reporter asked if he meant this as criticism, the Russian GM replied: "Frankly, it turns out that with this seven-hour time control—I never thought about this before the match—but now I find this quite weird that, basically, you can finish your game after midnight—that was sort of unexpected."

Asked whether he got enough sleep, Nepo said: "Well, obviously since I came back to the hotel a few hours later than usual, it was less sleep than normal, but I mean, in general, once you are that tired, of course, you sleep well."

The games begin at 16:30 local time, which is indeed a bit later than usual for chess events, where 14:00 or 15:00 are more common start times. FIDE's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer David Llada commented to Chess.com: "We found it to be a good time to make it universally available all over the world—and players were happy to play a bit later than usual."

Nepo-Carlsen game 7 Dubai 2021
Another 1.e4 by Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The fourth white game for Nepomniachtchi was also the fourth Anti-Marshall Ruy Lopez, the third one with 8.a4 and the second one with 8...Rb8.

Chess.com commentator GM Fabiano Caruana, who revealed in the show that he also intended 8.a4 in case Carlsen would play the Marshall in 2018, was surprised to see 8...Rb8 again since there are other lines that "are considered to equalize comfortably for Black."

Although he got a slight advantage in the fifth game, Nepomniachtchi was the first to deviate, not even giving Carlsen the chance to improve upon his earlier play. This time, the Russian player went for 10.d3 instead of 10.c3, and the idea was clear: putting the knight on c3 instead of d2, which then quickly went to d5.

Position after 13...Bf8.

In the diagram position, after a 13-minute think, Nepomniachtchi decided to trade knights on f6, which was a rather unexpected decision. Chess.com commentator GM Robert Hess said it "didn't feel necessary at all" since Black wasn't going to take on d5 anyway. Later in the day, when Carlsen had obtained the easy draw, Hess put it even stronger: "almost borderline inexcusable."

At the press conference, Nepomniachtchi said about his opening strategy: "Basically, it was the same as for the other games with the white color, just try to pull something out of the opening. I mean, in general, roughly speaking, White had a slight advantage. But, once again, in these symmetrical structures, even despite that, I had control over the a-file—it's very small."

Ian Nepomniachtchi press conference Dubai
Nepomniachtchi: White's advantage is very small. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen said he didn't have concerns in the opening today: "No, it was the usual. Obviously, White is a tiny bit better, but as long as you cannot see a clear way to increase the advantage, it's usually gonna evaporate."

That "evaporation" set in at the second key moment, which came just a couple of moves later, when Nepomniachtchi grabbed the center with 17.d4 and Carlsen took on d4. Taking seven minutes on his move, Nepo played the natural 18.cxd4, but that let the remainder of his advantage slip away.

Key Move of the Day: 18.cxd4
In a game where neither side made any serious mistakes, the commentators focused on move 18 as a moment where White could have pressed more. Although the engine claims 18.cxd4 is best, Caruana commented in the Coinbase Recap after the game: “I understand the move… I don’t understand the rush to make it… Magnus’ moves flowed very naturally.”  While this was not a mistake, 18.Nxd4!? would have created more dynamic play and likely resulted in more complicated positions. 18.cxd4 was a correct move but, also correctly, led to a quick draw. Review the game's key moments, get coaching explanations, retry mistakes, and more with Chess.com's revolutionary Game Review tool.
Chess Carlsen Nepo


Although Nepomniachtchi had made his 18th move after seven minutes of thinking, Caruana and also GM Hou Yifan, who had joined our show by then, agreed that this seemed to be another example of the challenger perhaps playing too fast at important moments. If that is true, it means Nepomniachtchi's biggest problem so far is not being able to deal with one of the few weaknesses he was known to have before the match.

Our Game Of The Day annotator GM Sam Shankland was milder toward Nepomniachtchi, saying about the moment where he forced the draw with 21.e5: "I think it shows some maturity on Nepo's part. Right after losing, it's hard to just admit you got nowhere with White and give your opponent an easy draw, and then play Black again the next day, but it's a lot better to do this than to get another bad position, which was the other option."

It's a lot better to do this than to get another bad position, which was the other option.
—Sam Shankland

Chess.com Game Of The Day Collection

Match score

Fed Name Rtg 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2855 ½ .½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ . . . . . . . 4
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2782 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ . . . . . . . 3

Four white games, four Anti-Marshalls, four draws. Asked whether Nepomniachtchi expected the Marshall from Carlsen, he replied: "Absolutely. The Marshall is one of the main choices for Magnus, I think, during his career and it's just a very decent and proven and very fire-proof choice for a match as well."

Even after this game, Nepomniachtchi seems to be happy with how his white games have been going: "I must say that I am getting much more than I expected out of the opening!"

I must say that I am getting much more than I expected out of the opening!
—Ian Nepomniachtchi

Carlsen was asked why he thinks his opponent hasn't tried anything else yet—that is, why Nepo hasn't tried different opening moves. The world champion's answer provided some interesting insight into the different approaches of the players:

"I would say just, in general, it's hard to gain a big advantage. You could look at it the other way as well. Ian is getting objectively slightly better positions from the opening and how much more can you really expect? I guess, in a sense, both of us are relatively happy with the result there."

"I would say that we have somewhat different approaches in that sense. He's playing openings where it's not so easy to put slight pressure, he's trying to solve his problems by force with Black and that's one of the reasons why it's hard to try and poke at the same places every time."

Game 7 press conference chess world championship 2021
The press conference host is GM Maurice Ashley. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the Chess.com post-game show, our special guest GM Levon Aronian didn't mince words when speaking about the strategy of Team Nepo:

"I think today is not so much about Ian but more about his team because, I think, after you lose a game like that, you should definitely come up with something serious, come up with some challenge. It's not like Magnus is doing what I expected him to do, he is not jumping around, he's just going for this passive Ruy Lopez. Therefore, his team could come up with something better. So far, I see him getting nice positions out of the opening and then it just all gets neutralized very soon."

"I'm not just talking about the opening team or coaches; I'm talking more about the psychologist. You have White, there is urgency, and you should strike back. Therefore, it's essential that you get in the psychological mood that there is no slow game and you're going to play for this 13.Nd5, 15.c3, and this type of stuff. That is what I'm surprised with and that's actually a real concern. Losing a game with Black is possible. You're playing against the best player in the world; you can lose one game. But then you have to come back to pose problems. I haven't seen this in the match from Ian so far.

You have to come back to pose problems. I haven't seen this in the match from Ian so far.
—Levon Aronian

Nepomniachtchi game 7 Dubai
Aronian thinks Nepomniachtchi should have tried harder. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The match is now halfway through, with a small lead for Carlsen. Nepomniachtchi commented at the press conference: "It's not going too well because, in general, I guess I had quite some promising positions and I believe also yesterday was some kind of eclipse which prevented me from grabbing the b4-pawn twice in a row. Yesterday's game was just kind of poor from both sides, I believe, especially during the time-trouble. But otherwise, it's pretty much sensible and it's very much fighting."

Nepo didn't see this game as a missed chance, saying: "Today was surely not a missed chance, I think, for any of us. It was a very balanced game and I believe it was just... boring!"

I believe it was just... boring!
—Ian Nepomniachtchi

Carlsen was expectedly content with the result, saying: "Yeah, it's OK. I obviously remembered my first match against Vishy [Anand] where I broke through and won the fifth game and then I managed to sort of gradually equalize in the sixth and eventually win, so I was slightly hoping that we could follow a similar scenario, but a draw is obviously a very nice result as well."

Responding to a follow-up question, he added: "Obviously, with yesterday's result, it's going pretty well. But it's a long way to go, half the match still. I've made my breakthrough, so the state is good." 

Magnus Carlsen smiling
Carlsen: "I've made my breakthrough, so the state is good." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen's reply to the final question at the press conference was nice: which historic match would he have liked to witness as a spectator? He replied: "It would be a close race, probably Kasparov-Karpov from Seville, closely followed by Alekhine-Capablanca from Buenos Aires. Those were awesome! Very tightly contested with great ideas between clearly the best players of their time." 


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